Sunday, February 25, 2024

10 things you can only do in Tucson (including the southernmost ski resort in the country)

If you’re looking for a quick getaway from Denver with unique experiences this winter, put Tucson on the list. A short two-hour flight to Arizona’s second-largest city brings visitors to a unique region of the American Southwest, with history, food and sights that can only be seen and tasted here.

When I traveled to Tucson for a winter weekend with milder temperatures in January, I expected to have experiences in the Southwest similar to those I had in New Mexico, southern Colorado or even Phoenix. Instead, I discovered a city with its own identity that might require a return visit to truly appreciate all it has to offer.

You’ll need a rental car (consider a four-wheel-drive model) to properly explore the Tucson area. Although Tucson isn’t as big as Phoenix (Tucson’s population is around 550,000 compared to Phoenix’s more than 1.6 million), you’ll leave the city center to go to at least one national park, a Native American reservation , a ski station. or a scientific research center.

Note: While this is not an exhaustive list of all the places to visit in Tucson, here are some that I have found that can be visited. only be made in this city.

The El Tiradito Wishing Sanctuary is part of Tucson’s Barrio Viejo. (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)

The El Tiradito Wish Sanctuary is considered the only sanctuary dedicated to sinners, according to local tradition. Tucson is Arizona’s oldest city, incorporated in 1877 and in its early days it was home to many farms and ranches. Legend has it that it was during this time that Juan Oliveras, a young married ranch hand, had an affair with his stepmother, who was the wife of a prominent local sheep rancher. Juan was murdered by his enraged father-in-law and the shrine was erected there. Although the shrine is not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, which helped prevent further destruction of the surrounding historic district, Barrio Viejo.

The Barrio Viejo of Tucson it is what remains of the original district of the city. This historic residential and commercial district that dates back to the late 1800s was largely bulldozed in the 1970s to develop the nearby Tucson Convention Center, but many blocks were saved and deserve restoration. be explored. When I visited here, I was expecting something like the plazas of Santa Fe or Taos in New Mexico, but I was delighted to find something very different and unique to this city. I recommend signing up or downloading a hiking guide or having specific points of interest as destinations. Some suggestions include the Coronet Café (a historic house transformed into three dining environments), the Etherton Gallery (photograph collectors), Carly Quinn Designs (original tile art) and enjoy the view of the colorful stucco houses that line the streets.

Try the Sonora dog in Tucson, a local specialty of the casual dining scene.  (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)
Try the Sonora dog in Tucson, a local specialty of the casual dining scene. (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)

UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – has named Tucson, a creative city of gastronomy. This recognition – one of only two in the United States – is due to the influences of Mexican and Native American ingredients and dishes in today’s modern cuisine. I admit that I was expecting typical Tex-Mex dishes, but even at El Charro Café, which bills itself as the oldest Mexican restaurant in the country, I dined on unexpected preparations of classics. For example, sonic enchiladas are two ground corn masa cakes topped with red chile and green olives. At Tito and Pep, the menu focuses on mesquite-cooked cuisine, including specialties from the Sea of ​​Cortez (although landlocked, Tucson is relatively close to the Sea of ​​Cortez). Mesquite grows here and is used liberally in cuisines to enhance flavors. Although it’s not haute cuisine, you might want to try a Sonoran dog, originally from Hermosillo, Mexico. I stopped at Ruiz Hot Dogs “Los Chipilones” on a dusty, bustling corner where a food truck features shaded, diner-style indoor seating so customers can enjoy a hot dog with pinto beans, onions, salsa, mayonnaise, mustard and other optional toppings. Other highlights include green chile garganelli bolognese at Zio Peppe, fresh agua frescoes and award-winning tacos at Seis Kitchen, and outdoor dining in a charming courtyard at Coronet in Barrio Viejo. When planning your breakfast, lunch or dinner, look for ingredients that are in season and grown here.

At Saguaro National Park in Tucson, you'll see a variety of cacti and historic sites.  (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)
At Saguaro National Park in Tucson, you’ll see a variety of cacti and historic sites. (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)

The country’s southernmost ski resort sits atop Mount Lemmon, which transports visitors from the city’s elevation of 2,389 feet above sea level to 9,171 feet, where the snow falls in winter. When there is enough snow, you can ski and snowboard there, and when the snow is not falling, you can enjoy the view from the Walk in the sky. Visiting here is tricky, so do your research: the Sky Ride is not available for tourists when the slopes are open to skiers; the road going up is limited to four-wheel drive vehicles when there is snow; the station is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; there are no online ticket sales. The good news: It’s a great deal with lift tickets going for $15! The climb begins with cacti and ends in an alpine forest.

THE the saguaro cactus only grows in the Sonoran Desert, which extends from northern Mexico to parts of California and Arizona. Saguaro National Park is the only national park dedicated to protecting these large cacti and is located just outside of Tucson. Aim for the west side of the park with numerous trails, scenic drives, and cactus forests covering the Rincon Mountains. There’s also a smaller Saguaro National Park east of town, which includes an eight-mile scenic drive where you can hike among cacti and mesquite trees. I saw two wild coyotes walking near a trail here! If you still want to see more cacti and have time for the 2.5-hour drive from Tucson, plan to visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the Mexican border, where you can see these cacti in their original habitat – the only place in the world. United States where they grow wild.

Mission San Xavier del Bac is on the Tohono O'odham Nation reservation, southwest of Tucson.  (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)
Mission San Xavier del Bac is on the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation, southwest of Tucson. (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)

The reservation lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation are southwest of the city of Tucson, and there you will find the Mission San Xavier del Bac. It is unclear if this is the only mission restored to a preserve, but it may be one of the best restored. What is unusual here is that the building is of European design. The church is open to visitors unless there is a service in progress. This National Historic Landmark is considered the oldest intact European structure in the state: it was completed in 1797. The carved and painted ceiling details, as well as the unusual statuary, are worth an extended stop here.

Spa lovers in Tucson will find a few treatments that are only offered here. I tried the flower ritual Hiapsi Spa at Casino del Sol, which begins by burning copal, a local tree sap, to rid the environment of negative energies. Sage and other locally harvested herbs are distilled for use in the relaxing body treatment.

You can learn about Earth, also called Biosphere 1, visiting Biosphere 2 just north of Tucson. In the early 1990s, there were two “missions” to Biosphere 2, which involved various experts committing to living inside these buildings for an extended period of time, where they had to grow and process all of their own food, maintain an environment similar to that of Earth. , and they all get along well with each other. Today, you can take self-guided and guided tours of campus to learn what worked and what didn’t and how the space is used today. I highly recommend planning “add-on” or guided tours (you’ll see the “lungs” of buildings through a series of tunnels, for example), but either way, you’ll learn a lot about things like condensation and quantity of oxygen. plants need. I left here with a renewed appreciation for keeping Biosphere 1 in working order, because replacement is not attractive.

Take a tour of Biosphere 2 in Tucson to learn more about the scientific research conducted here.  (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)
Take a tour of Biosphere 2 in Tucson to learn more about the scientific research conducted here. (Mindy Sink, special to the Denver Post)

Don’t just watch the sunrise in Tucson; honor this momentous daily event with a ceremony. At the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa, you enjoy excellent views of downtown Tucson and access to a Morning ritual Mitakuye Oyasin on the terrace. You’ll join your fellow guests around a fire pit where you’ll receive supplies to make a sage prayer tie, then participate in an eagle feather blessing. It’s a beautiful way to start the day in community and watch the desert come to life.

All this talk about food made me curious to know more about the history of the foods grown here, so I stopped at Mission Garden. Although my visit was informal, you can sign up for guided tours, taste some history (taste the oranges and lemons that grow here), or learn about O’odham agriculture. This is not a botanical garden or community garden that you might usually visit, and it is difficult to categorize because there are many layers to the history of this site and the way it is developed. integrated into modern culture. In other words: when the Top Chef contestants found themselves at Mission Garden with the task of preparing a meal from the food grown there, they could literally pick pigs, quinces, oranges, lemons, zucchini and much more. It is a living museum of local cuisine.

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